Monday, 16 June 2014

This week over in Splitting Borders we're doing a series of strips celebrating animal adoption. We thought we would start it off by talking about our own experience taking on our furry baby.

Pomegranate, Pom, PomPom, Pommy, Pommy-kins, Sasquatch, Sas, Furry Face, The Queen, Pomster, The Pominater- many different names for the many different faces of our darling girl Pomegranate.

We adopted Pom about six years ago when my cousin Karen let us know about a kitten that needed a home. We travelled to Wexford to collect her. When we arrived we discovered that she was a tiny, skinny and scraggly little thing. She was not plump, fluffy or bright-eyed; she was small with patchy fur and a squinting eye. It was suspected that she had been abandoned by her mother very early on and we were taking her home long before her natural weaning period would be over. She looked sad.

I have to admit she was not what I had been anticipating when we made the decision to take a furry friend into the family. If you watch enough cat/kitten videos on the internet you begin to expect that every kitten would be a bouncy, mewing, playful ball of fur, just waiting to delight you with his/her cuteness. Our new kitten did not meet these expectations at all.

Pomegranate did not take to me straight away. She cried and struggled when I first held her. Gary on the other hand became her instant surrogate mother. His scent and calm manner had lulled her to sleep as he held her in his arms two minutes after I relinquished her to him.

Love at first hold does not even begin to cover it. Gary and Pom. Pom and Gary. They are a bonded pair. In an imperfect world, the meeting of two imperfect souls can be a thing of magic, wonder and beauty. Gary and I both are no strangers to life not going exactly to plan; to things not turning out as expected. We have had our own versions of patchy fur and squinting eyes. We both have known what it takes to look after and care for a difficult and challenging being in distress.

We lavished this little feline with love and attention. We got plenty of advice from a friend and her family who were long time cat rescuers. In the past I would have declared myself an out and out “DOG PERSON” having grown up with a beloved dog, Casco. Cats were totally new to me. I didn’t understand her ways; I didn’t understand how she showed fear or affection. I did learn though: it wasn’t easy but hand on heart, it was worth it.

In the early years Pom and I spent lots of time together. I talked to her all day long; we chased each other around the house; we can have an extremely awesome game of “Slaps” (where she wallops me every single time). We chirp at each other; the first thing I do most mornings is rub her soft belly and now, when I come home from work she welcomes me in such a way that I feel like the richest woman in the world.

It is not all sunshine and roses for Pomegranate. We think because of her early experience she suffers from separation anxiety. She can over lick her fur in certain spots and she can be highly sensitive to changes in her environment. It can take a long time to get to know her. She is not particularly friendly to strangers. She has improved over time and we do try to make the necessary adjustments when problems arise. She is not perfect but then, neither are we.

The story I think I am trying to tell here is probably one of acceptance of imperfection and the unexpected joy that acceptance can bring. We accepted a difficult and challenged being into our lives and she has shown us just how beautiful and lovable we can be in our imperfections. We would not change Pomegranate. Sure, we would like to help her with any problematic behavioural issues she has developed, but in essentials, she IS perfect. She is loving, warm, playful, intelligent, articulate and giving. Her black cat beauty is breath-taking. Her movements, her elegance and her now rich and glistening coat are magnificent to behold. I consider it a blessing everyday that I spend with her. I could probably write for pages and pages about her like this.

I will stop now but I will say something about the adoption of an abandoned or neglected animal. I want to be an advocate for it. I want to say if there is a nagging thought in your mind towards adopting a pet from a rescue centre or animal charity, a thought or a feeling that won’t go away, I would say listen to it. I recommend it.

Obviously I am not recommending it for everyone. Being able to spend time with an animal is very important, being able to feed them and house them well is as important.

But what I am trying to say is that probably for every unusual, imperfect, and unexpected family there could well be a perfect unusual, imperfect and unexpected animal that may fit into that family like a glove. Try not to discount your situation as being animal unfriendly. Don’t be reckless but maybe don’t be too quick to discount the possibility also. There may be an animal out there that is in need of a home that is as weird and odd as you are. You, in all your unique experience, may be a perfect companion for a lost soul in need of your particular brand of TLC.

The journey is certainly not an easy one. You are essentially inviting an unwell or potentially damaged creature into your home who can not talk to you and there is no hope of them learning your language. But……if you can give them time……..and respect ………….and love……………..and have some patience……..I do believe a new kind of mutual language can develop………yes, I am going to go the whole cheesy hog on this one………you can develop a language of love. This language will be particular to you and the animal in your life. I believe it provides well being, feelings of joy and happiness, and a sense of fulfilment as the bond grows and as you help restore some peace and good health back to a fellow being.

It is an amazing feeling to know that every day you are making a positive contribution to another beings life. Of course you will make mistakes, of course there will be illness and distress but think of all they may have suffered if you had not stepped into the frame, if you had not opened the door and your heart to them. Think of all you receive in return; the earned trust of a sad or distrustful animal is the best kind of wealth this world has to offer.  

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

From Where I Am Right Now

Wow, it’s been a long time since I have written anything resembling a blog post. Where to start? Where to start?
Probably from where I am right now would be a good place. So much has happened since I last posted that a recap might be a long, dull and tedious exercise.
So, right now I am sitting up in bed (on top of covers so as not to get too cosy and fall asleep) attempting to write a blog post that I have been threatening to write for a couple of months now.
Gary is sitting beside me inking the third panel of our 188th web-comic strip. I've become a web-comic creator, writer and sometimes illustrator…..did I tell you??
Weird, huh??

I’m finding it pretty weird; weird, exciting, challenging, delightful and expansive; all of these things.
Pomegranate, our beautiful cat, is curled up asleep at Gary’s feet. Her restful THRUMMM fills the room. She looks so comfortable, I want to be shrunk down and nestle in beside her. She has become the golden star of our web-comic series. I think she knows it too; her diva-like tendencies have intensified. Gary has lovingly illustrated her in stories about our day to day lives and we have taken some fanciful adventures too. Our whole world has become available for re-invention. We are drawing a new imagining of life one panel at a time, on the page and off it.

I’m taking it easy today as the rest of my week is kind of full. I’m exhibiting as part of a group exhibition in the NCAD Gallery in Dublin at the moment. It is finishing on Friday and there is a day of meetings and programming I am taking part in. It all sounds pretty fancy and I have to say, it feels pretty fancy too.
I made it a goal a couple of years ago to work towards exhibiting my work in a gallery. I finally feel like I am on the road to achieving that goal in the way I imagined it in my head. I feared for a long time that I would never get there but taking part in this show has quietened those fears and I feel emboldened by the process.

I think being in an exhibition, much like anything that feels aspirational or slightly out of reach, has a dream like quality to it. I could imagine myself walking around my art work in a well lit white space. I could imagine feeling pride and a sense of accomplishment. What I don’t think you can ever really imagine is all the hard work it takes to get there. I mean I know it takes hard work; that is always factored in. But again I think that imagined hard work is always slightly more glamorized in your mind. I could imagine the hard work of self expression, of writing biographies and of promotion.

I don’t think I could have imagined running around Dublin city centre capturing photographs of a street art project I had papered town with the day before. I don’t think I could have imagined myself crouching on the floor of the gallery painstakingly measuring and cutting large sheets of paper for six hours (in the wrong boots that are making me hot and uncomfortable). My effort was so complete I actually smelled by the end of it. I don’t think we dream in that kind of awkward detail. The details of forgetting to bring masking tape or your USB stick not working or every bit of mounting board that you cut going off at an angle and having to start again. The kind of details that make you want to pull your hair out and scream and break things because of their inane simplicity, their everyday annoyance, their avoidable stupidity.

There is a large glass window in the front of the NCAD Gallery, so even as you are setting up your work you are on display. In the midst of my minor and major grievances, I could also feel the power of the moment. Here I was on the inside of the glass, I wasn't on the outside looking in at someone doing the thing that I really wanted to be doing myself. I have had plenty of experiences where I was gazing longingly at people fully engaged and participating in their creative lives while I observed from the side-lines. At those times I wasn't brave enough, happy enough, confident enough or I just wasn't able enough to do what I desired. I didn't feel I had enough internal or external support to put myself and my work out there. If it had been poorly received or criticised I don’t think I would have had the resources I needed to rally, to say “To hell with them, at least I tried!” and to carry on regardless.

After a long time of suffering this angst and slowly building some necessary supports around myself, I finally had had enough and I vowed that the next artistic, creative, crafty thing I attended, I would be participating in it also. That is how I started making for craft markets and sitting behind a table at the show rather than walking in front of them.

So here I am, another step taken down the road to my dreams. I have not only the experience of sitting behind the table now but also of being behind the glass. As I said, it feels pretty fancy. The harder realities of it are important too, I guess. The annoying details mean I have taken the idea or dream out of my head and the wild world has had its wicked way with whatever notion I was carrying around about how it would be. I did it anyway though, even with the crappy bits included and I finished what I started. In a really personal way, in an “only I can really know” moment, I know how far I have come; I know what it has taken and I feel satisfied.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Art Archive

Welcome to my art archive. I am currently off on some adventures, making new art work, documenting some older work and writing stories for my web-comic:

Feel free to take a wander around Too Folk to be Cool, take your shoes off, settle in. 
There is lots to read and look at, from essays about my artistic process to photographs of lighthouse tea cosies and bad bears that happen to be pin cushions. If you are not in the mood for reading, take a glance through my photo galleries, just click on the buttons under the title.

If you want to make an inquiry abut any of my art work, 
please contact me at:     

Click on an image below to read some of my most popular posts.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Phase 2 Starts Here

I took an unintentional break from writing here last week. A culmination of factors led to a tiredness that would not permit me putting pen to paper. I have started to volunteer at a community art studio in Dublin, I had a family reunion in Wexford and I have a couple of commissions on the go that needed my attention. All of these things were combined with the fact that the last tea cosy I showed you here was also one of the last projects I had readily documented on my computer. Apart from a couple of other works in progress my photo archive has all but dried up and phase 2 of my art archive needs to take place.

I have a hunt ahead of me. I must travel to foreign abodes to photograph, document and capture my work in their now natural habitats. I also have an archaeological dig to do; I must excavate what is now the historical work of my late teens and early twenties. I have a couple of portfolio cases groaning with drawings, paintings, print work and sculpture that I need to scan and photograph to include in this ever expanding document of myself.

So what was a steady and continuous process of documentation may become a less conventional beast, until I find my feet in this new territory of exploration. The photographing stage always takes longer than expected and the volume of work may delay what has been a regular and routine posting up until now.

I hope you can bear with me as my work takes on this new form in the background. It is exciting to re-discover old art work, old talents and dusty capabilities. The opening of my ancient artistic history makes my fingers tingle and makes my heart remember times of creativity past. I already have a longing to re-engage with some of the techniques I haven’t used in some time. Holding the heavy paper, seeing my marks made across it, is like retrieving long lost parts of me. The combination of idea and creative action makes for visceral memory making. I am walking through my memories at the moment and re-connecting with the brush strokes that make up my story. Here is just a taster of things to come.

Watch this space. 


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

I am a Map-maker, Part 2

Welcome back. Yesterday I showed you this map-inspired tea cosy in its first stage. It was in a traditional map format which basically means it was flat, it could be read from left to right, right to left, from top to bottom and from bottom to top. Today I would like to show you the piece when it is transformed into its intended purpose- a tea cosy.

When I had the idea for this piece I was really excited by it. I worked very hard on research, design and the making of all the separate elements that make up the final vision of the piece. I sewed everything into place and I added upholstery trimming to the hem to strengthen its form and also to create a frame or border for the images to sit within. So you can imagine, after doing all that work and I finally get to the stage when I can sew in clasps and snaps to be able to turn this map into a tea cosy, the trepidation I felt when I placed the finished piece over the tea pot. I hoped to the gods of art and design that it would look exciting and interesting rather than an unreadable jumble and a big mess. Thankfully when it was sitting in place I felt satisfied with how it had turned out and that my design had held strong in both formats. 

Now instead of being able to read it in its traditional form, it could be read many different ways. The 3D details stood up off the background and demanded attention. It was a traditional map no more, it was now a kind of unique globe that could be viewed from many different angles.

As I said yesterday, the images I chose to use on the piece were from the stories I heard in the conversation I had with the man it was commissioned for. Family life was a big part of the stories I heard and so I decided I would embroider two family portraits; one of his family growing up and one of his own family now. I chose browns, beiges and sepia toned threads for the embroidery of the older portrait to give it a sense of history and of times past. I decided I would embroider his current family portrait in Technicolor and in a more caricatured style. I wanted it to be soft, bright and with a sense of fun about it.

In the old-fashioned maps I used for inspiration for the piece, I found there can be a lovely mixture of images and written text. I find the combination of the two very appealing visually and I wanted to incorporate this into my own work. I found a quote from William S. Burroughs that seemed to suit the tone of the piece perfectly. I had embroidered the writing onto a piece of white felt and used it on the tea cosy as another form of visual and thematic interest.

As you can see from the photographs, there is a tiny room on the map. The man had told me a great story about a room he had lived in when he was younger and I wanted to make a representation of it for the piece. I set myself the challenge of making it as small and as detailed as I possibly could. I made a tiny bed, a clock, a window and even a tiny door with door knob included. The idea was not to make an exact replica of the room but just to have something on the tea cosy that symbolised his experience.

All the details of the piece were based in stories I heard in our conversation. The lighthouse, the tower blocks, the portraits and the room all came from the man himself. I think this is partly the success of the piece. The sharing of his stories generated a visual story in my mind that I then wanted to communicate. The tea cosy is obviously very personal to the man it was made for but I think our interconnectedness as humans makes us interested in each others stories. I think you could feel it is so personal to the recipient that it would not be of interest to anybody else. But my experience in making it has been the opposite. I have found that its unconventional beauty draws people in and makes them want to know what it is about. I think it makes you think about what would be on your own mind map. What would be the symbols and the landmarks? Whose faces would you see? What stories would be told? 

Monday, 13 May 2013

I am a Map-maker, Part 1

Sometimes I will be asked for a gift voucher to give to someone as a present. The idea is that rather than the giver commissioning a piece for the person, the receiver of the gift can pick his/her own art work to be commissioned. One such recipient of a gift voucher decided they would like a tea cosy as their present. For some reason I was surprised at the request, maybe because he was a man and my inner sexist had emerged. So I sent him on photographs of my previous work so he could get a sense of the kind of things I had made in the past.

We arranged to meet for a cup of tea and a chat about what he would like from his tea cosy. We had a long talk but not very much of it was about tea cosies, colours, ideas or any of the usual information I try to garner when developing a piece. He shared stories with me about why he wanted the tea cosy which then led to other stories about many other things.

I left his company with a million images, stories and panic about how I was going to turn all this information into, of all things, a tea cosy. I have been challenged before but this seemed like the boss of all challenges.

To my total relief because of the wealth of imagery I was presented with, I quickly began to form a plan for the piece in my minds eye. We had discussed the mans interest in maps and so I decided the basis for the piece could be formed like an old fashioned map, the kind that have sailboats, mermaids and monsters illustrated in their seas.

But rather than it be an accurate geographical map, I thought it could be a mind map, a map to chart his stories and his memories from the past. I picked key information from our conversation and decided to incorporate them into the piece. I wanted to scatter them across the landscape like noteworthy landmarks in a journey or expedition.

The other key component of the work was the idea that the piece could be laid out flat like a paper map and read that way but then after some nifty needle work and some integral construction the piece could be clipped into place and become a functional and decorative tea cosy. I liked the idea that at one point in time people thought the world was flat but with exploration they found that it was round; the tea cosy represents both forms. I am fascinated by how we, as humans, can feel absolutely assured of something and then with some heroism and the drive to explore we are constantly confronted, not just by one truth, but by many, many truths that challenge our ideas and perceptions about the world.

For the tea cosy I liked the transformation of a 2D object into a 3D object aided by the functional reason of its existence, the teapot creates the globe upon which the map can sit. The cosy starts as a piece of art to be observed, it then gets transformed into a functional item but in doing this, it further explores its artistic and creative qualities as it encourages you to view it in a new and challenging way. Art informs function and then the function informs the art.

I also explored 2D and 3D forms in the making of the map. The landscapes and family portraits were all embroidered flat and then I made 3D miniature representations symbolising different ideas or memories we had discussed in our meeting. I wanted the map to come alive, to jump off the fabric, to rise up to meet you with unexpected details and things to be continuously discovered. As I said before, I love working in miniature and this idea really allowed me to play and challenge myself in this area.

Tomorrow I will discuss with you the details of the piece and the techniques I used to bring this tea cosy together. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Three Bear Flair

On a sunny afternoon, I had the foresight to photograph these bear friends together. They are all dispersed into the four winds now, so I am glad I have the evidence that they once lived under the same roof.

I was talking to Gary about these photographs and he asked me what I liked about them. I mused for a long time but the thought finally came to me that I liked seeing the collection of work together. When I see them in a group I remember how the creation of each bear naturally led to the creation of the next. Each creative product, simply put, is the result of lots and lots of decisions to convey a certain theme all coming together to form a final idea and image.

When I would make the decision to use black wool, in my mind I would often think; but what if I made the exact same thing in white or blue or green or pink? If I made the design decision to make it in say, pink, what impact would that have on the idea I am trying to convey? Maybe black is the right decision for this idea but the same piece in pink may generate a whole other idea, a piece apart. I find this happens to me all the time and it is why I so rarely make only one of something.

As soon as I make a definite decision in the making of a piece, all the alternatives are sitting there, looking up at me and crying out to be used or explored in a different way.

So here are three examples of different design decisions made, each one leading neatly into the next. A bad bear with dark wool, questionable morals and jagged teeth lead to the idea of a different perspective. I want to make something that is about the positive, the warm and the inviting, things about me made in a bigger scale and in a brighter colour. This then leads to questions about size and making things smaller and more compact. Also, the two gone before were explored through masculine form, what would it look like to me when they are in feminine form? What do I want my femininity to represent? I do believe it would go on like this forever if life did not interrupt with commissions, external inspirations in many different guises and the small matter of earning a living.

When I see them all together I see a family, a context, a place where they are part of something bigger and they are relatable to each other.  But in the same view it also allows you to see the obvious differences between them, it highlights their individuality and their separate messages or themes. They contrast with each other and yet are familiar so you can feel comfortable exploring their world. A language is developed in which you can rest in and absorb their information without being constantly jarred by ever changing images that bear no relation to each other.

I have created my own personal playground and I can play, create, say, sing and do what I like within it. The bears are the product of this experimental world and they become real and valuable expressions of the things I learn about myself as I play in this special place.